A far weirder-than-average eighties horror fest with a
shadowy monster, a deadly epidemic and a large-scale feud. If nothing else,
it’s certainly the only movie I know of whose entire cast spends most of the
running time wrapped in plastic!
This fun, darkly comedic Michigan-based 1987 movie has frustrated many
horror fans because of its lack of gore (it involves a disease that causes
people’s flesh to smoke and char, thus minimizing any potential for the red
stuff). Far more annoying, in my view, are the many dated 80’s elements (a
cheesy synthesizer score being the most grievous) and oft-clumsy storytelling.
But for those willing to forgive its deficiencies, the film works.
In a small wilderness town, the traumatized Jake finds
himself cast out of a church gathering one night; nobody in the town likes him,
as it’s widely believed he killed his parents in a fire. Wandering out to his
special hiding place, a secluded cabin, Jake is attacked by a growling, hairy
At this point, it seems like we’re in for a traditional monster mash, but
the story takes a bizarre turn. It seems Jake has contacted a disease through
contact with the creature, who is never mentioned again. More to the point,
Jake is the carrier of said affliction: anything he touches is contaminated, and
anyone who touches the contaminated areas has their flesh charred, as an
unfortunate man discovers when he finds a diseased book stuck to his hand. The
guy runs into the crowded town square, and everyone watches in horror as he
smokes and dissolves to nothing.
Mass chaos erupts. Finger pointing becomes rampant as paranoia infests the
townspeople, all of them desperate to find the carrier of the disease.
Everybody wraps himself or herself in plastic (which doesn’t always help) and
eventually the town divides into dueling factions that Jake, keeping his
culpability a secret, manipulates YOJIMBO like into an all-out war.
The scattered survivors are called to a town meeting in a church, where the
mayor, a friend of Jake’s who knows his secret, declares the carrier of the
disease to be a recently deceased man. Everyone rejoices...until a woman makes
the mistake of giving her baby to Jake. The steam it emits in his arms is
immediately recognizable to all, and Jake, his secret revealed, immediately
becomes the center of everyone’s attention. As we’ve already seen, the town’s
collective wrath is NOT a pretty sight, and Jake becomes the focal point of
it—can you say lynching?
This is the only movie directed by Nathan J. White (he did, however,
produce 1992’s HELLMASTER, another Michigan-based horror movie), and it’s not
difficult to discern why. Much of it, particularly the chaotic first half, is
grindingly inept. The photography is tacky and annoying music cues are used to
obnoxiously bolster the scary stuff.
Luckily, the proceedings are weird enough to hold one’s attention. The
sight of backwoods yokels wrapped in plastic chasing each other through the
woods is an arresting one, and far from the film’s only compellingly surreal
image (cats stuck to a church wall??). Perhaps White, who also penned the
script, was trying for a real-life allegory here, of AIDS (or something). In
any event, the film, despite its “heavy” subject matter, is breezy and funny
throughout, fully aware of how ridiculous it is. Whatever his ambitions, White
was wise in never taking himself, or his film, too seriously.
Swan Productions/Magnum Video
Director: Nathan J. White
Producer: Jeffrey Dougherty
Screenplay: Nathan J. White
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Cast: Gregory Fortescue, Steve Dixon, N. Paul Silverman, Paul Urbanski, Patrick
Butler, Stevie Lee, Ron Asheton, Marti Bowling